Most 15 year-olds have their mom buy their clothes, Matthew O'Brien was designing them
A career in fashion was inevitable for Matthew O'Brien. Having already started his own fashion line at the age of 15, Matthew O'Brien was destined for the catwalk. Now more than ten years later, Matthew O'Brien is showcasing at London and Paris fashion weeks, holds the title of Britain's Top Designer, and has been the judge and mentor for Design Genius for Fashion One TV. Here to speak about how his unwavering determination and passion for his work has allowed him to get to where he now, are eight questions with Matthew O'Brien.
You already started your own fashion label at 15. How did you know that you wanted to get into fashion at such a young age and how did you set up your brand?
My family definitely influenced me as they are all very entrepreneurial. Although no one in my family is in fashion, I knew from a young age that I wanted to start something of my own. Growing up, my sense of style made me stick out and I would receive comments on how smart and well-dressed I looked. Even when I was a teenager, I started to experiment with fashion by creating my own pieces that I would wear myself. So when I was 15, I got an iron board and sewing machine and started to make menswear pieces from my bedroom. Within a matter of months, I was already opening an online shop and establishing my own brand. The brand was called MANG at the time. As we sponsored professional wakeboarders, they would wear my brand at competitions and promote it globally. A student in sixth form served as my personal assistant. Then, when I finished A-levels, I was considering studying electronics and robotics at university, but could not ignore my fashion company that was doing very well. Plus you have to bear in mind, that at this point I still had no official fashion background. I was a self-taught manufacturer, pattern cutter, designer and manager. So I decided to take a gap year and explore the fashion industry by taking a fashion design course at Istituto Marangoni in London. A year later I did a BA in fashion design at Liverpool John Moores University.
You started off your fashion career in menswear, what made you switch to womenswear?
I started off with menswear as I was creating clothing that I wanted to wear myself. But I soon realised that I wanted to be a lot more creatively free with fashion. Menswear is typically quite clean and sharp, but I wanted to design pieces that were more flamboyant. As womenswear offers a lot more freedom to express yourself, I did a course in womenswear course at Isituto Marangoni. I still have menswear clients today, but am largely focused on womenswear.
How was the experience of judging and mentoring on the TV show, Design Genius for Fashion One TV?
It was a crazy and to be honest, quite frustrating experience. As the designers were different ages and had varying levels of fashion backgrounds, it was difficult to account for all of them. I would see the designers before the challenges and gave them feedback and guidance, but then for the final revealing, I did not see any of my advise being followed. This was frustrating. So although a lot of them designed really creative pieces, I believe that the contestants could have used their time better and should have listened more.
Overall, it was an amazing experience as it was being filmed in the Philippines which was lovely. However, I do think that because of my varied background in electronics, art and design, I was probably a bit too critical on the contestants and expected too much from them.
You have your luxury couture collection, but also the House of MOB, a more casual brand consisting mainly of hoodies. Why did you decide to have these two different lines?
This is the way I see it, there are a lot of people who want to support me and my shows but not everyone can afford to buy a couture piece. By having the House of MOB line, it allows everyone to be able to buy into the brand. Even if they can't buy a couture dress, they can still buy a hoodie or lower-priced item and still support me.
What kind of an audience does Matthew O'Brien cater to?
My store is all about bespoke and made-to-measure. This allows me to have a really good understanding of my clients. They are typically successful ladies in senior positions, appreciate fashion, go to a lot of social occasions and have a refined taste. The people that walk through my door are often working on their own company or have worked closely with a personal tailor their whole life. At the same time, I also have clients who just find it hard to buy something that fits them on the high-street and want a custom made fashion piece.
Who do you look up to?
Firstly, my mother as I am very close with her and she serves as a big driving force and support system for me. I am also driven by successful people in general, regardless of their industry as I like to surround myself with people who are working towards great things. I believe that if you surround yourself with successful people, you can only go the same way yourself. Even my clients, who are often far removed from fashion, are powerful ladies that inspire me.
What would you have done differently?
One thing which I may have done differently, although in a way this has also served as a benefit to me, was to work at other fashion houses. Now it's too late for me to work for someone else as my own brand is too established and I would have to let go of my company rights if I were to leave. But looking back, it would have been interesting to see how other fashion houses operate internally.
What can we expect of Matthew O'Brien in the next 5 to 10 years?
Each year I end up accomplishing things I could have never dreamed of. Only one year ago I opened my own shop and now we are already opening a second. So I definitely think anything is possible in the next 5 to 10 years!
But I imagine, that we will be increasing our stockists and expanding our product range. There is already a demand from my customers for home furnishings from Matthew O'Brien so I will definitely get involved in that. I also imagine the brand will be more solid in its offering and offer different levels of product price ranges. Obviously we will still keep the couture element but perhaps also incorporate a more accessible collection similar to the House of MOB.